A Universe of Stories Writing Contest Winner

bearded man in orange tshirt and brown hat
Duane Johnson
5
Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Duane Johnson has won our writing contest in the Open Category on the theme of A Universe of Stories with "One Small Step".

The author is a retired journalist, who now primarily writes poetry. He has published one volume of poetry, “Evolution’s Promise: Meditations of a Magical Thinker,” and is working on two other volumes of poetry. He also has published a novel, “Herald of the Resurrection.” Both "Herald" and "Evolution's Promise" can be found on Amazon. He lives in Topeka, Kan., and is married to a social worker. They have two grown children. He lives in a modest house with gray siding on a dead-end street with a chain saw, fishing gear and kayak in the garage. The near-by four hundred-acre lake is his laboratory.

One Small Step

I still have the photo
taken the day I graduated
from radar school at Redstone
dad behind the lens and me in front
mounted on a Hawk missile in the space museum
screw driver in one hand, hammer in the other
parody of a joke among my classmates:
“in-flight maintenance.”

Two years later to the day
I perched on a pool table in battalion HQ
telephone in hand
dad on the other end, a thousand miles away
neither of us speaking
as we watched Armstrong take that one small step.

Before I came of age, dad and I were flight companions​
traveling through space vicariously.
Civil Rights and Vietnam would put distance between us
but space was our umbilical cord.
Together we taped clippings of Glenn, Shepard and the rest
in my Mercury 7 scrapbooks.
We tethered together on Ed White’s space walk
and both died a bit in Apollo 1.

Later, from different ends of Tennessee
we held our breaths as collective heads and ingenuity
swung #13 around the moon to rescue Lovell, Haise, and Swigert.

Somehow, Skylab never seemed to interest either of us
until, while I was home in ‘79
its remnants littered the Australian coast
and we grabbed some beers and toasted the town of Esperance.

In ’81, during my honeymoon,
I sent dad a post card of Columbia and crew
soon after its maiden voyage.
In ’84, he mailed me a colored glossy
of McCandless scooting through space with a jetpack.
In ’86, he visited us to meet his grandson
and together we cried when seven died in Challenger.

Among the last things dad saw before he died
were Hubble images:​
Horsehead Nebula, Mystic Mountain and Pillars of Creation.
Now, the grandson who made his grandpa cry
the day they met
studies the outer atmosphere of Mars.

Sometimes when my son and I
visit my father’s grave
I fancy the three of us as Apollo 11 astronauts
me in the command module
listening on the radio to Blake and dad
dodging boulders and gambling their fuel
to safely nestle the Eagle into the moon dust
and in my head, I give them turns
taking that one small step.

Written by Helen H.

Fun fact: I adore furry faces.